EvenStevens’s #CBR5 review #17 – The Eternity Cure by Julie Kagawa

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Hey guys! I’ve had a crazy busy summer, I bought my first house! My reading has been sporadic and I just haven’t had any time to write my reviews. There’s a few coming so bear with me. Also, I started reading this particular book just before the move and unfortunately there was a long stretch of time before I picked it up to finish it, so my reading of the book and this review are probably a little lacking because of that. Basically what I’m saying is, don’t hold it against the book, it was actually pretty darn good.

The Eternity Cure is the second book of The Blood of Eden trilogy and picks up right after the events of the first book, The Immortal Rules (which was excellent). Allison, is now determined to find her maker, Kanin, and free him from the torture he is enduring at the hands of crazed vampire, Sarren. Along the way, old friends and foes pop up and unlikely alliances are made to get to Kanin and get everyone out alive.

I’m a fan of Kagawa’s writing, she creates distinct voices for her characters and though some of the tropes in her books are familiar, they never feel liked rehashed and recycled stories (I’m looking at you City of Bones and Wither). This book is fast paced and kept me engaged throughout.  It’s definitely a brain candy kind of book; it moves swiftly and is entertaining and easy to digest. The one thing that I didn’t love is that this felt like a second book in a trilogy; though there was a lot of action and lot of things going on, in the grand scheme of things, not much *really* happened. It felt a lot like a filler book, a satisfying filler book but filler nonetheless. This is a problem I see a lot with trilogies and I have a personal grudge against trilogies that are so just for the sake of being a trilogy. If your story only needs two books to be told, just write two! Anyways, I digress. It’s really a minor complaint and more of a personal pet peeve, I’m just an old curmudgeon.

If you’re a fan of vampire stories, The Immortal Rules is a great entry in the genre and, trilogy gripes aside, The Eternity Cure does not disappoint as a follow up.

Even Stevens’s #CBR5 review #15: A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

A Storm of Swords

Ok listen, most people are of two camps with these books: either they’ve read ’em and love ’em or they’ve heard a lot about them but haven’t read them yet. Either way, I feel like everyone and their mom has reviewed these or read reviews of these, and quite frankly the thought of trying to summarize or recap these 924 pages (yes *924*) makes me want to ugly Dawson cry.

So with that, I’m going to tell you this: this book is the third installment in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series and it gives a lot of payoff to the events that were set up in A Clash of Kings, and consequences to the events that happened there as well. This book is my favorite so far of the series, and well worth the crazy amount of pages contained within it.

So anyways, I decided what better way to truly represent the experience of reading this book than with a series of gifs (I know some of you are anti-gif and I apologize in advance). Without further ado…

Here’s how I started out reading this book:

And then, because GRRM is a very wordy man, there may have been a bit of this:

But then, THEN. I had been warned that there was a part that would make me throw my book in anger. I thought I had time, but I was WRONG. I read it in public and therefore could neither yell, nor throw anything (well, not without getting arrested probably) but this is what I looked like on the inside:

And finally:

I was seriously angry for an entire day, no joke. However, GRRM slightly made up for it a bit later in the book and I looked a little more like this:

And then GRRM threw out one more bomb, did a mike drop and left me eagerly anticipating the next book and looking like this:

And that rollercoaster of emotion is what you can look forward to experiencing should you choose to read this book and/or series. Which you totally should.

Even Stevens’s #CBR5 review #16: Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

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Quick note: I’m publishing my reviews slighty out of order because the last book I finished was A Storm of Swords, and I am just not even ready to write that one up yet. This was my post-SoS palate cleanser.

Min Green, a slightly nerdy junior who is obsessed with classic movies and sees her life in film, is breaking up with Ed Slaterton, co-captain of the basketball team, and one of the most popular seniors at her school. Min drops a box of mementos from their relationship on Ed’s doorstep, and with each memento an accompanying note reminisces about how that one thing became significant to her, and how after The Big Thing (because there is a Big Thing), she can’t stand to look at any of these mementos that reminds her of their time together.

Each chapter represents one memento in the box, some are long and significant, while others take only a page or two, but still speak volumes. I love the illustrations (by Maira Kalman) as well; they add a personal, and at times bittersweet, note to the book. Min is a great narrator, and I found that I identified pretty strongly with her. A movie-obsessed, snarky teenager who is slightly on the social fringes and has a bit of a potty mouth and is also a little naïve about the dating game? Yep, it took me back a few years. I like how Handler sets up Min and Ed’s meeting and eventual dating. It could be very tempting to make Min a fawning teenage girl who can’t believe such a popular boy would fall for her (aka what seems to happen in any rom com ever), and there is a bit of that, but Min has a strong personality all her own, and she experiences many things: happiness, giddiness, self-doubt, shyness, insecurity, anger, love, and she does so with a dry wit that I loved.

As the book unfolds, the reader really gets to know Min and Ed and even though we know from the title exactly what happens, I was still rooting for them because though they were very different from each other, Ed and Min complemented each other and were quite frankly damn cute together.  However, as the chapters progress, we get little hints of things not quite being right, little niggling thoughts and worries that start little red warning signals in the back of our brains. I figured out what The Big Thing was that split them up about halfway through the book, but it didn’t detract at all from the story. Actually, as I think about it, I think it was clever on Handler’s part, because we most likely figure out the truth of things before Min; I think this only adds to the awfulness that comes when Min catches up to the rest of us, and realizes not only what The Big Thing is, but also that she is the last to realize it, adding insult to injury. Further, looking back on some of the events of the book, what seemed cute and sweet take on a bitter tone, wreaking of selfishness and cruelty and I felt for Min all over again.

There’s a part near the end where Min examines how everyone claimed that she was “different” from the other girls Ed has dated and how she doesn’t feel different at all, but rather ordinary and unremarkable. Even though she holds no culpability for how things turn out, and even though she lashes out at who and what caused The Big Thing, she also turns it inward and blames herself.  It sounds like a plot point in any other book, but damn if Handler doesn’t break my heart a little right along with Min (I’m going to include part of the quote at the end for those who are curious, those who want to find out for themselves feel free to skip it, although it is spoiler-free).  I loved how human Handler made this book; Min feels like she could be any one of my friends or even me myself at some point, and it’s a testament to his writing that I’m still angry at certain characters and actions, as if they were real people. This was a quick read but a very engrossing one and I strongly recommend it.

Side note – I was not aware of this, and only found out after finishing the book, but Daniel Handler also writes children’s books under another name – Lemony Snicket.

Part of the quote from Min (it spans several pages, so this is but an excerpt):

“I love like a fool, like a Z-grade off-brand romantic comedy, a loon in too much makeup saying things in an awkward script to a handsome man with his own cancelled comedy show. I’m not a romantic, I’m a half-wit. Only stupid people would think I’m smart. I’m not something anyone should know. I’m a lunatic wandering around for scraps, I’m like every single miserable moron I’ve scorned and pretended I didn’t recognize. I’m all of them, ever last ugly thing in a bad last-minute costume. I’m not different, not at all, not different from any other speck of a thing. I’m a blemished blemish, a ruined ruin, a stained wreck so failed I can’t see what I used to be. I’m nothing, not a single thing. The only particle I had, the only tiny thing raising me up, is that I was Ed Slaterton’s girlfriend, loved by you for like ten secs, and who cares, so what, and not anymore so how embarrassing for me. How wrong I was to think I was anyone else…”

Even Stevens’s #CBR5 review #14: Sister by Rosamund Lupton

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Beatrice, known to her sister simply as “Bee”, gets a call from her mother in London telling her that her younger sister, Tess, has gone missing. As Tess is quite a free spirit, it is first assumed that Tess has just gone off on her own without telling anyone. Nonetheless, Bee flies from New York City (where she is living with her fiancée) to London to see if she can help locate Tess. Once she gets there, however, she realizes something is very wrong and suspects that Tess’s disappearance is more sinister than anyone else is willing to consider. While everyone else dismisses Tess’s situation, Bee becomes determined to uncover the truth of what has happened to her sister.

This is Lupton’s debut novel, and I have to say that it was pretty fantastic. Equal parts thriller and a story about the relationship between Tess and Bee, the pace and flow of the story is perfect. We learn what happens to Tess early on, but it’s hinted at that even more happens after that truth is uncovered.  The story unfolds in two ways: the first, and most prevalent and revealing, is Bee’s narrative, in which she is writing a letter to Tess, recounting her recollection of the events. Concurrent to the letter writing is Bee’s recorded statements to Mr. Wright, a lawyer, to be used in the trial against the man in prison, though the who and the why are withheld.

As a lifelong reader of mysteries, I tend to be picky about which ones I read because so many are generic, by the book whodunits. Thankfully, this is not one of them. I love mysteries that unfold from someone intimately involved in the story rather than a detective (Defending Jacob also used that format very well) because I think it adds so much more emotion and depth to the story.  Apparently Lupton was a screenwriter for the BBC for many years, and it shows in her writing; I think it would make a terrific movie. I was on the edge of my seat as the reader is give bits and pieces of information, and we slowly learn along with Bee what really happened with Tess. It’s both exhilarating and poignant and I was fully invested and rooting for a happy ending (though it’s pretty unclear whether one will be reached or not).

What really surprised me is that I’m still capable of being surprised. Gone Girl did it, Defending Jacob did it, and now this one has too; it’s a good year for mysteries.  I figured out some of what happened but there was a revelation at the end I was totally unprepared for, and pleasantly taken aback by. The most satisfying part about the revelation was the fact that the clues were there all along, so the conclusion was a natural one, but not easy to guess (at least not for me).

I really enjoyed this book. I’m giving it a 4 here, but I’d actually rate it 4.5 stars if I could (Seriously, can we just start using a 10 star system? Or give us half stars? I have distinct opinions of my ratings!)

Even Stevens’s #CBR5 review #13: An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

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Colin Singleton is a high school senior who has just graduated. Colin leads a unique life: First of all, he was a child prodigy; he is a wealth of knowledge and knows at least eight languages. Second, Colin has dated (and been dumped by) nineteen Katherines in his life.  Colin is devastated after Katherine number nineteen dumps him.  In order to get him out of his slump his best friend Hassan, who is outspoken, unmotivated and loves Judge Judy (basically Colin’s opposite in every way), convinces him to go on a road trip. Along the way they stop in Gutshot, TN to see the grave of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and this is where their adventures begin and both boys starting learning to truly live their lives.

There’s no skirting around it: this book is firmly in “quirky” territory. There are a lot of random facts that get thrown around and some absurdly unbelievable situations but because Green is such a strong writer, he pulls it off with heart and humor.  Colin is a fully realized character, one that quite frankly starts off a little bit unlikeable. He is fully immersed in his own self pity and I simultaneously felt sorry for him and wanted to smack him and tell him to get his shit together. Thankfully, Hassan felt the same way I did and never let Colin stray into self pity territory if he could help it. And the great thing about Green’s writing is that by the end, I was totally rooting for Colin and happy for how far he came from the start of the book.

This is another take on the coming-of-age genre, but thanks to Green’s talent (if you can’t tell, I love him), it feels fresh and there were several for real laugh out loud moments. And the footnotes, oh the footnotes.  These are what convey most of those random facts I was talking about, and the first one that defines the the german word “sitzpinkler” (a man who sits to pee) is most definitely my favorite, though they are all entertaining.  This book is clever and has a lot of laughs and really gives a nice spin to the familiar trope of the coming of age road trip story.

I picked this up because I loved Green’s The Fault in Our Stars so much, and while the books are very, very different, Green’s voice shines through both. His writing is simple, effusive, and charming and there’s a love for his characters that permeates both books. If you like books with heart, and don’t mind quirky, I’d say give this one a go.

Even Stevens’s #CBR5 review #12: The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa

The Immortal Rules

Okay, let’s get this out of the way: Is it just me, or is that cover seriously channeling Neve Campbell in Scream? It was funny picturing Sidney Prescott as an ass-kicking vampire. Anyways, onward we go…

Allison Sekemoto is one of the many thousands of people living in poverty in the outskirts of New Covington, a vampire city. Citizens who are Registered (and are required to give blood monthly to the vamps) live in the inner city and presumably lead comfortable lives, but those who choose to remain Unregistered essentially do not exist and are left to their own devices out in the Fringe. Even though they claim to be civilized, the vamps still swoop in and kidnap people from time to time, and to add to the mix, there are blood thirsty creatures, called rabids, roaming about that will stop at nothing to kill you once they have picked up your scent.

Allison has spent years in the Fringe, fighting starvation and evading vamps and rabids alike. The vampires caused the death of her mother when she was a child and Allison hates them with a passionate fury. That is, until the night she is attacked by rabids and a lone vampire offers her the option of a quick death or a life as a vampire. Though she hates them, Allison doesn’t want to die, and she begins a new life as a vampire. This path leads her on a journey across the country, and she meets up with a group of people that leads her to face the choice of whether she will fall into her new role as a soulless monster, or if she will try to save the humanity she has left within her.

I’ve gotten to be picky about my paranormal YA because as much as I love it, the vampire craze and the Twilight books have led to an insurgence of some truly mediocre books touting themselves as action, but are really just flimsy covers for angsty teen romance.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind a little romance when it’s done well, but schmooping about and needless brooding do nothing for me. Anyways, Taralovesbooks gave this a positive review, so I decided to give it a go, and I am so glad I did. This book kicked ass.  Allison is a tough, no-nonsense protagonist, and not in the sometimes quite unbelievable and convenient ways you find in some of the dystopian and/or paranormal stuff out there, but in the way that you can tell this is a girl who has spent her life surviving and will do whatever she has to do to protect herself. As you can imagine, this sort of life often does not involve taking the moral high ground and Allison is not afraid to get her hands dirty.

There are really three stories at play here, Allison’s life in the Fringe, her training by her sire, Kanin, once she has turned, and her parting with Kanin and meeting up with this group of travelers. The stories are nicely weaved together and though some of the plot lines feel familiar, they never ring false. Every decision made and every situation faced feels organic to the story, and all the plot progression and character development is natural and hard earned by the characters involved.  Another thing I appreciated was that Kagawa wasn’t afraid to harm her main characters. I don’t root for characters’ deaths, but when an author sets up a dangerous, likely fatal, situation and then magically creates an escape or rescue for them, it deflates all of the tension out of the story (*COUGH* CASSANDRA CLARE *COUGH*). When a character is hurt or killed, it shows that the stakes (heh, stakes) are high and very real.

Overall, this was just a really excellent book, well plotted and paced and full of characters I was rooting for. I gave this a 4 because it takes a lot for me to hand out a 5, but really this was more of a 4.5. I would recommend this to anyone who is a fan of vampire and YA paranormal stories.

Even Stevens #CBR5 review #11: The Indigo Spell by Richelle Mead

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I’ve been reading this series (this book being the third installment) due to my fondness for Mead’s series this was spun off of, the Vampire Academy books. These books follow Sydney Sage, an Alchemist who helps keep the existence of vampires secret from the human world, and deals with cleaning up any situations caused by the vampires.

The first book, Bloodlines, didn’t have me reeled in at first, especially with Sydney being so different from kick-ass Rose. However, the second installment, The Golden Lily, improved upon the first greatly, and this book has finally pulled me in, full tilt. I won’t get into the plot too much, so as not to spoil the previous books, but Sydney has started to question the motivations of the organization she works for, and is torn between loyalty and duty versus doing what is right. She sets out to find out more about an Alchemist named Marcus who broke out of his role as an Alchemist. In addition to this, Sydney has been dabbling in learning magic with her teacher Ms. Terwilliger and now Ms. Terwilliger has tasked her with a big task: helping to track down and stop a witch that is killing young girls to keep her own youth.  Add this to her regular duties of keep Jill, the princess’s sister safe, and a complicated love life, and she has a lot to contend with.

Mead always has a lot of action going on in her books and she has really ramped it up from the first two books here, and I have to say I like it. I like it a lot. This series also carried over my favorite character, Adrian, from the Vampire Academy series and he is delightfully front and center in this book as well. I won’t say much more – if you have read Mead’s other books or need a fun, slightly soap opera-y series, this isn’t a bad way to spend your time. Not bad at all.

Even Stevens’s #CBR5 review #10: Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

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Ismae has always been an outcast in her village, and particularly reviled and abused by her own father. The reason for this is the scar she bears across her back – the result of a failed abortion attempt – that everyone sees as the mark of the devil. Ismae is sold to an ogre of a man to become his wife, but is saved and whisked away to a convent. This is no traditional convent however, this convent worships the patron saint of death, Saint Mortain, and Ismae is told that she was sired by none other than Death himself.  Ismae is then trained as an assassin: she learns to fight, to defend herself, to mix deadly potions, and basically to kick ass in all areas. When a possible threat to the queen’s life arises (Queen Anne of Brittany – this is where the historical fiction comes in), Ismae is tasked with travelling to the capital with the queen’s half brother, Gavriel Duval. They are to work together to thwart the traitor to the queen, against both of their wishes. What comes after is a mix of action, drama, espionage, and some romance.

This book was a hell of a lot of fun. I had actually forgotten the premise when I got around to reading it, the title had just stuck in my head from so many recommendations, so it was a treat to go in blind and get caught up in Ismae’s world of intrigue.  The plot summary on many sites makes it sound like an entire book about assassin nuns –which are involved – but it’s really more about Ismae growing up and finding her place in the world she knows. And it doesn’t hurt that she does a lot of ass kicking along the way. There are quite a few players in this book, and some not very subtle chess references, but it all makes a very intriguing story. I knew fairly early on who the traitor was, but thankfully this story stands on its own and is more than just a whodunit (or who-gonna-do-it, I suppose).

The one complaint I have is that I wish we had gotten to see Ismae’s years of training at the convent. It literally goes from her accepting a place at the convent to three years later when she is a fully trained assassin. There are more books planned in the series, so I assume the author held off that part of the story to be told in a later installment, but it really did take away some value from the story. We are told she is best friends with Sybella and Annika (I’m about 99% sure this isn’t the correct name of the character but it’s been awhile since I read it and the internet is shockingly unhelpful in this matter) but we don’t get to see that, and I think that is a truly missed opportunity in her book.

This book ran a lot more along the historical fiction line than I was expecting, but it was well paced and developed and though it is technically YA, it reads much more like an adult novel. This has a sort of Graceling feel to it, though I can’t pinpoint why. Either way, that one complaint aside, this was an excellent book and I definitely recommend it.

Even Stevens’s #CBR5 review #9: Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion

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R is a zombie. He can’t remember his full name, what he did or who was when he was alive, or even how he died.  The only sounds he can make are grunts and groans, but inside his head is swimming with thought and emotion. Yes, he eats people, but it’s only logistical, he needs to continue existing. And what is this existence anyway? Well, he finds his reason when he and a group of other zombies attack a group of humans and he sees Julie. He helps Julie escape the ordeal alive, and helps her blend in and protects her.  He and Julie forge a strange, tentative bond that is tested once they get out into the real world.  R doesn’t want to go back to normal zombie life, and he feels like maybe, just maybe he’s learning to be human again.

I love supernatural stories, vampires, demons, ghosts, I love em all. Zombies fall under that category, but they’re toward the bottom of my list and quite frankly with zombie craze spawning a ton of books, I was a little tired out. I had seen the premise of Warm Bodies and thought “Eh, not for me. Just another attempt to wring the last idea out of a tired genre.” However, the positive buzz for this book lasted a lot longer than most others and it stayed on my radar. And then the movie came out and it looked charming and funny, so I finally broke down and read it. Sometimes, friends, I am an idiot. I was an idiot to wait that long to read this book because it is great. It was absolutely wonderful and fun to read from start to finish.

First of all, R is a very likable narrator. There is a lot of dry humor, and wry observations about human nature and not-so-human nature.  His relationship with his best friend “M” (and M himself) is probably my favorite part of the book.  The set up is a simple one, but Marion makes sly observations about our nature and how we identify ourselves and those around us through the zombie apocalypse.  There are some bittersweet moments (for instance, the thought that they may never see a plane in the sky again) that remind us that even if the story has a happy ending, there is much that has been sacrificed, many that have been lost.

There are quite a few opportunities for clichés to rear their ugly head, and indeed I often expected them, but Marion deftly steers clear of any sappiness or unnecessary theatrics.  This book is funny, thoughtful, and likeable and I found myself rooting for M and Julie the entire time.  There was a subplot with the “Boneys” that I wish had been fleshed out a bit more, but it’s really a very minor complaint about what is otherwise an excellent story. I recommend this to anyone looking for a fresh, fun take on the zombie apocalypse.

Even Stevens’s #CBR5 Review #8: Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

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Two brothers go out into the woods to hunt, one doesn’t come back.  Years later, two brothers are playing in the snow and get into a fight; the younger one runs away in anger, never to be seen again.  Flash forward to many years later, and we meet Leo Demidov, an officer in the Russian army under Stalin’s rule.  During this period, even though crime soared and many suffered in poverty and starvation, it was imperative that the Russian government put forth a front of strength and success. No reports of anything that would undermine the government were tolerated, and any report of something as small as verbal dissent was harshly punished, often with a death sentence. When Leo is tasked with looking in the disappearance of the son of a fellow officer, he scratches the surface a problem that runs deeper than anyone realizes.  Leo must not only track down what may be a serial killer, but he has to do so without catching the attention of the brutal government officials, many of whom he works with daily.  To make matters worse a fellow officer, Vasili, seems to have a personal vendetta against Leo and works to undermine him at every turn, even as Leo attempts to prevent any more horrors from occurring.

This one was one I had heard quite a bit of buzz about, it was on a bunch of “best of” lists in 2012 and a coworker (whose opinion I value) raved about it.  I’ve been sitting on this review for awhile because I had a very tepid response to it; it was just ok, and I had to think about why I felt this way. There are two major things I think that work against it (for me). Number one: there is a fine line between teasing out events for suspense versus letting them sit so long the reader forgets about them. Those first two lines in the summary up there?  You don’t hear a peep about them until about halfway through the book. And this is not a short book. By the time we got back to them, I was like who is that again? Oh right, them. When things finally do get rolling it is very interesting but I felt like I had to run the marathon to get there.

Number two: I had a hard time connecting to the characters. It’s not that they weren’t interesting; they definitely were. However I think Smith presents them with a sort of cold detachment and I found it hard to really get invested in any one person, I just couldn’t connect even though I sympathized.

It’s possible that I just built up my expectations too much, but this book fell short for me. There is some truly brutal stuff in there that somehow just didn’t affect me like it should have.  However, from what I gather, I may be in the minority in this opinion, so if this sounds like your cup of tea, I’d say give it a shot. It’s well written with some truly horrific things going on, but it just wasn’t for me.